Google Caffeine and Rich Snippets gives user-generated content a lot more weight.
It makes sense that consistently adding customer reviews, stories, questions, and answers helps people find the right products on a site. However, there are subtleties to make the content even more impactful - especially now, with the advent of fairly recent features by Google: Google Caffeine and Rich Snippets.
While search engine providers have talked about fresh content for years, Google Caffeine's enormous and costly infrastructure update centered on freshness gives user-generated content a lot more weight. Maintaining a good SERP (define) ranking now requires that at least some of the page's content is fresh and dynamic, which indicates to Google that the page is still relevant.
Adding customer reviews or user-generated Q&A can obviously help provide fresh content, and to make sure Google can easily find it, make sure that at least a few reviews are included in your primary page for each product or service. A handful of fresh reviews or Q&A content can make a significant impact on how Google perceives that page's freshness.
"Integrated blogging" or adding snippets of customer stories on product pages can also help improve search results. Each time the snippets change, Google Caffeine will see those updates and once again consider your page fresh, and thus more relevant.
Even before Google introduced Caffeine, OpenTable changed the way it displays reviews on its site and saw a measurable increase in search results. OpenTable.com provides real-time online restaurant reservations for diners and reservation and guest management for more than 13,000 restaurants worldwide. Rather than requiring the restaurants to continuously rewrite their content (which just isn't scalable), customer reviews create a ready stream of fresh content for search engines to crawl.
In 2009, OpenTable began placing the content of the first four reviews for each restaurant directly into the pages' code. Since implementing, each restaurant profile page receives updated content as often as once a day. Only three days after making this change, OpenTable noticed an uptick in natural search traffic to the restaurant profile pages and to the overall site, as well as an increase in the number of keywords driving traffic to their pages.
Over the next four months, the total search engine traffic to the restaurant pages on OpenTable.com increased by 10 percent, as compared to the same months in the previous year, and 17 percent from Jan. 2009 to Jan. 2010. The number of unique search terms for these pages ranked also increased by 100-plus percent year over year.
Google Rich Snippets has also improved the impact user-generated content can have on sites, by displaying star ratings and review "snippets" in search results.
Google says its own experiments have shown that users find the new data valuable - if they see useful and relevant information from the page, they are more likely to click through. Google's Rich Snippets show a summary of review information, and pages with more reviews will appear more favorable, so it's important that products get as many reviews as possible.
By paying close attention to how user-generated content is arranged and displayed, its impact can have an even bigger impact on Google search results. Take note of these details and make the most of your users' contributions.
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Sam Decker is founder and CEO of Mass Relevance, the leading enterprise social curation company. He speaks and consults on digital growth strategy, based on years of experience in technology and social markets. He has written two books on word-of-mouth marketing and is an award-winning blogger (www.deckermarketing.com). As former chief marketing officer of Bazaarvoice, the market leader in hosted social commerce applications that drive sales, Sam worked to help brands present the right user-generated content at the right time in the purchase path, bringing real value to the consumer and the business. Prior to Bazaarvoice he drove Dell's customer segmentation, their customer-centricity strategy, and led Dell's consumer website, building Dell.com into the largest consumer e-commerce site at $3.5 billion in annual sales.
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